Litigating State Secrets: A Comparative Study of National Security Privilege in Canadian, U.S. and English Civil Cases
Ottawa Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 2, pp. 289-323, 2010
36 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2011 Last revised: 21 Apr 2011
Date Written: January 1, 2011
One of the main obstacles in criminal and civil proceedings involving intelligence and executive officials is the objection to disclosure of information and evidence on the basis of national security privilege. Known as the "state secrets privilege" in the United States and “public interest immunity” in England, this evidentiary rule has been invoked successfully in an increasing number of cases in the US and England. Indeed, the privilege has been identified as one of the most serious obstacles to effective human rights remedies. In this essay, I discuss the use of national security privilege in civil litigation in the three jurisdictions, focusing specifically on the role the privilege has played in blocking claims by purported torture survivors and other victims of anti-terrorism activities in the US and England. I also evaluate the potential impact of the privilege on a torture survivor’s civil claim, when such a case ultimately goes to trial in Canada. My conclusion, based on the approach courts have taken to the public interest balancing exercise, is that it will be very difficult for private litigants to obtain disclosure of information over which a claim of privilege has been made.
Keywords: national security, privilege, civil litigation
JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation